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Australia Apologizes To 150,000 Unwed Mothers Forced To Give Up Babies

AAP, ABC, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Australia), TVNZ (New Zealand), IRISH TIMES (Ireland)


CANBERRA - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologized Thursday to two-decades worth of mostly young, unwed mothers who were forced to give up their babies for adoption.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, an estimated 150,000 unwed Australian mothers had their babies forcibly taken from them and given up for adoption under a practice sanctioned by governments, churches, charities and bureaucrats, according to the AAP press agency.

Some women were tricked into signing adoption papers while they were drugged and shackled to hospital beds.

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Gillard in 2010. Photo by MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy)

Gillard made the speech in the capital at a special ceremony in the Great Hall of Parliament. The Sydney Morning Herald writes that she told the crowd that Australia recognized that the practice of removing babies from mothers who were deemed unfit to raise a child “continued to resonate through many, many lives.

"For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatization, and the guilt, we say sorry" she said, adding that the practice was "cruel and immoral."

Opposition leader Tony Abbott also spoke but was heckled loudly by the crowd who objected to his use of the terms “birth parents” and “adoptive parents”. Some of the crowd walked out, but Abbott said he was happy to retract his words and noted that he still had some things to learn, just like Australia, writes ABC.

The apology was one of a recommendation of the landmark 2012 Senate inquiry by Senator Rachel Siewert, which found up to 250,000 babies were forcibly taken from their mothers, who were mostly young and unmarried, says the Sydney Morning Herald.

The head of the Apology Alliance, Christine Cole, lost a child through forced adoption practices and says the apology has been a long time coming. “It is an historical day for me and one that I have worked towards since 1994. I had my baby taken from me in 1969, and I think the use of the term forced adoption polarizes the actual phenomena of what was going on. What was going on was kidnapping children, kidnapping newborn babies from their mothers at the birth, using pillows and sheets to cover their face, drugging them as I was drugged, with drugs like sodium pentothal, chloral hydrate and other mind-altering barbiturates.”

TVNZ writes that New Zealand is unlikely to receive such a formal apology, even though the situation was similar in that island nation.

Last month Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued an apology to the Irish women who were put into workhouses, known as the Magdalene laundries, for crimes that included getting pregnant outside of marriage, reported The Irish Times. These children were also put up for adoption.

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